Beirut – President Michel Aoun will discuss the “mysterious file” of the nine kidnapped Lebanese soldiers during his Arab tour which is expected to begin next week.
The president’s tour will include: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt where he will request assistance to reveal the fate of the soldiers kidnapped by ISIS since August 2014.
Aoun seems to have given this case his attention now that a new Lebanese mediator has been assigned to communicate with the kidnappers, prior to the negotiations that would end up with their release similar to the case of the 16 soldiers who were taken by al-Nusra Front.
On Thursday, families of the nine army soldiers held hostage met with President Aoun at the presidential palace where they received assurances from President Michel Aoun and General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim that authorities were pushing for a resolution.
National News Agency (NNA) reported that the session was open and President Aoun expressed his determination to follow the case and ensure the safe return of the soldiers. Aoun said he would prefer to handle the case away from the media.
The president assured the families that he has been following up on the issue from the beginning and that he would continue with their case while he makes international visits.
“Trust that the state will not be relieved before this matter is closed,” Aoun told the families, according to his media office.
Maj. Gen. Ibrahim assured the families that President Aoun is following the case on a daily basis, saying that “we should hope for the best.” He gave a comprehensive presentation on the negotiations process so far and the new mediator who will be number 13.
Sources close to the matter told Asharq Al-Awsat that Aoun is intending to seek the help of the countries that could be of assistance on the case.
The sources also indicated that the President will do his best to bring the soldiers back home safe.
“For more than a month, I’ve been trying to follow up on holding a meeting and this is what prompted me to take a position and talk about the issue on the media,” Hussein Youssef, the families’ spokesperson.
“The meeting meant a lot for us and it boosted our spirits because the president showed his understanding in this case,” Youssef said. Youssef is the father of the kidnapped soldier Mohammad Youssef.
Youssef told Asharq al-Awsat that they won’t be relieved until they have seen their children live or on tape.
Later Thursday, Maj-Gen Ibrahim visited the families at their camp in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh.
“The efforts that are being exerted in this case are serious,” he told the families. “We hope that we witness a development soon that will bring this case to happy closure.”
Youssef said that Ibrahim was trying to send a message of assurance to the families by giving them a new hope … and he’s very optimistic. He said that he sensed the seriousness of the work of the new mediators.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Nizam Mogheit, brother of kidnapped soldier Ibrahim, was also optimistic of the recent updates especially now that the president had assured them that he would handle the case.
Security forces have no definite information regarding the soldiers or their whereabouts. Last time their families heard of them was in 2014 when three of the soldiers appeared on their knees in video being threatened by a militant who spoke in French.
Recent confessions of ISIS militants who were captured in Ersal revealed important information. One of the ISIS militants pointed out that he personally killed Abbas Medlij and informed the authorities about the soldiers being tortured and forced into hard labor.
President Michel Aoun presided on Thursday the first meeting of the Higher Defense Council at the Baabda Palace in the presence of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, director-general of the State Security apparatus, Maj. Gen. George Qaraa and other security officials.
Aoun stressed the “importance of pre-emptive confrontation against terrorist groups and the need for coordination between the security agencies.”
President Aoun added that the country will continue to “face the Israeli enemy and all forms of terrorism,” saying it is a top priority of the government.